Is the EEOC making good on its promise to target systemic discrimination or are they full of hot air?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) previously advised that it is targeting employers with systemic discrimination. According to the EEOC, systemic discrimination involves a pattern or practice, policy, or class case where the alleged discrimination has a broad impact on an industry, profession, company or geographic area. In a recent two month period, the EEOC settled two class action discrimination lawsuits where such alleged systemic discrimination occurred as well as settling two other suits since this was identified as a priority for the EEOC.
In one suit, systemic discrimination was alleged where during a two and a half year period, the employer hired no employees in the protected group (Title VII protects several groups, including those discriminated against based on age, gender, disability and religion) for nearly 1300 openings for tire installers and mechanics. Additionally, the employer only hired one protected person for a different position out of approximately 800 openings. To resolve the claim the employer will pay 46 rejected employees a total of $2.1 million, the employer will have to implement hiring protocols to recruit and hire individuals in the protected group, and implement anti-discrimination policies and training.
In another suit, the EEOC claimed systemic discrimination against two different protected groups, alleging that out of 70 sales representatives hired, no one was in either protected group. The suit went on to allege that this discrimination was intentional and done at the direction of the company’s owner and president. Further, the company’s former human resource employee notified the EEOC that she believed the company was engaging in discrimination. The $1 million paid to settle the suit will be split between job applicants who were rejected because they fit into one of two protected groups. In addition to changes in hiring practices that the EEOC will monitor for the next four years, the company must retain an external human resources consultant to review and recommend changes to their workplace policies.
In a third EEOC lawsuit alleging systemic discrimination, a particular group of individuals was told that the company does not hire individuals from that protected group. On the eve of trial, the company agreed to pay $400,000. and to change its policies, providing training to prevent discrimination. Further the employer agreed for the EEOC to monitor future hiring to ensure compliance.
In a fourth suit, the EEOC alleged that certain applicants in a protected group were rejected while less qualified applicants outside that group were hired. Further, when individuals in the protected group were hired, the suit alleges that they were subject to harassment, including name calling and suggestions that they should not be working at the company. Also the company failed to keep over 1000 employment applications and other employee data required by federal law. In addition to paying $700,000 to individuals who sought positions, but were rejected based on their protected status, the company has agreed to hire no fewer than 40 individuals in the protected group in the next three years.
These cases illustrate that the EEOC continues to focus on systemic discrimination. However, even where discrimination is not widespread, employers need to take appropriate precautions to ensure discrimination does not occur.
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